Tom Curran has impressed with England Lions © Chris Whiteoak
Modern international bowlers endure an odd life. Those good enough to make it to the top level, especially in limited-overs cricket, invariably find themselves asked to bowl on the flattest of surfaces, with a ball that offers them little and against opponents armed with bats so effective that edges carry to and over the shortened boundaries.
On the rare occasions those bowlers find themselves operating on a surface offering them much assistance, you can be sure somebody – probably a former batsman – will moan that the pitch is inadequate. Truly, modern bowlers are the punch bags of international cricket. The straight men. The sacrificial offerings.
Tom Curran is about to learn all this. A richly talented young bowler – it is easy to forget he is just 21 as he looks so much older than his 18-year-old brother, Sam – he burst on to the scene in 2015, when nobody in Division Two took more first-class wickets. Life proved harder in Division One but he also helped Surrey to the final of the 50-over competition (though the apparently forgotten Jade Dernbach took more wickets at a lower average and conceded fewer runs per over) and was the most economical of their seamers in the T20 Blast. All of which renders his call-up nothing more than a minor surprise.
There might have been a case for calling up Sam Curran instead, though. It is not that Sam is a better batsman. It is more that, like Steven Finn, Liam Plunkett, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Jake Ball (who has not, at this stage, been sent home as the England camp await the results of a scan on his knee), Tom Curran is a right-arm, fast-medium seamer. Without the injured left-arm seamers David Willey and Reece Topley, England captain Eoin Morgan is not blessed with variety.
Perhaps Chris Jordan or Stuart Broad might have been recalled, too. Jordan appears established as a death bowler in the T20 side but, despite being an outstanding fielder, seems to have dropped out of the ODI reckoning. This is, remember, a side already missing four seamers (adding Mark Wood to the list of Willey, Topley and Ball). If Jordan is found surplus to requirements in these circumstances, it may require little short of a zombie apocalypse to warrant his recall.
A return for Broad remains possible. After a hugely disappointing World Cup, it would have been easy for Broad to retire from limited-overs cricket in order to stretch his Test career. But, to his credit, he retained the hunger to go back to domestic cricket to prove himself. He bowled well in the BBL and, on merit, probably warrants call-up.
At the same time, his value to England as a Test bowler is enormous and it may be no coincidence that, since the World Cup, he has arguably bowled better than ever in Test cricket. He is at an age where the benefits of rest are growing. It may well be the selectors have decided that his skills have been allocated towards the Ashes.
There is no doubt, though, that England’s ODI bowling needs to improve. Statistics show that, while their batting has been, arguably, the best in the world since April 2015 their bowling has been among the worst. So while they have recorded their highest three ODI totals (and five of their top six) in that period, they have also conceded three of their five highest.
There are various mitigating factors. The most pertinent is that England have played, not least at home but also in South Africa and India, on a succession of surfaces that make batsmen salivate and bowlers tremble. Australia and South Africa also find themselves towards the top of the batting table and the bottom of the bowling. The success of England’s batsmen comes, to some extent, at the expense of their bowling team-mates. The modern international game, with its Powerplays and fielding restrictions and T20 mentality, has changed, too. And in very few ways has it changed in bowlers’ favour.
But the figures don’t lie, either. They support the suspicion that, while England’s limited-overs batting has developed, the bowling has not quite kept pace. At full strength – with Willey to attack with the new ball and Wood to attack with an ageing one – England still look a decent bet for the Champions Trophy. But without Willey’s skill and Wood’s pace, without an absolutely top-class spinner (though Moeen Ali is a more-than-respectable one in ODI cricket), they lack the variation, the control or the magic to unlock good batting line-ups on good surfaces. Their batsmen are almost always going to face a mountain.
Increasingly their cricket resembles Newcastle United’s football during the Kevin Keegan years. It is positive, it is entertaining and, at times, it is brilliant. But does the all-out attack mentality win major tournaments? It might. Their batting really does offer that potential. But if their batsmen could be required to do a little less – something less than a miracle each time – their progress would prove much smoother.
Curran may prove a partial answer. But it is a desperately tough job that he has been given.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. He will be covering England’s tour of the Caribbean in association with Smile Group Travel, specialists in hosted supporters’ packages.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Source: ESPN Crickinfo